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Mother crosses the graduation stage with her child in hand

University Innovation Alliance Improves Higher Ed Graduation Rates

Project Overview

The University Innovation Alliance (UIA) unites pioneering public research universities across the United States to improve higher education and better meet the needs of students from diverse backgrounds. By sharing knowledge, tools, and scalable interventions across its network, the UIA empowers campuses to more effectively support students and boost graduation rates.

Most undergraduates don’t match the traditional profile of young, full-time students living on campus with few responsibilities outside school, yet many institutions haven’t redesigned to address that reality. This means that fewer students are reaching graduation, especially those from low-income backgrounds. The network brings its members together to solve this graduation challenge so that more students can earn a bachelor’s degree.

“Too many institutions, in focusing on competition, rankings and prestige, have given short shrift to their role in growing the middle class and helping less advantaged Americans move up.” 

Bridget Burns, Founding Executive Director 

How it Helps 

Universities tend to work in isolation, which means that promising interventions and innovative approaches are rarely shared widely. Launched in 2014 with 11 public institutions, the UIA flips that script to ensure institutions innovate together.

The network enables schools to quickly communicate proven strategies so partner universities can reach and support more students from low-income backgrounds, first-generation students, and students of color.

Nearly one-third of undergraduates are Pell grant recipients who have deep financial need. They face added academic, social, and financial challenges that make it harder for them to move up or keep up, and only one in five students from low-income backgrounds will graduate in six years. The network provides toolkits, online learning modules, and a coaching model based on successful innovations for supporting these students’ success.

Approaches include small completion grants to help students with account balances cross the finish line, proactive advising driven by data-driven early alerts, and redesigned career services to improve connections between classroom learning and postgraduate employment.

The UIA also developed and launched a plan to expand its membership and designed an online resource portal, the University Innovation Lab, to support collaboration across the network.

Since the UIA launched, the number of annual bachelor’s degree graduates from its founding institutions has increased by 26%. The number of annual graduates who are underrepresented students of color has increased by 73% and the number of annual graduates from low-income backgrounds has increased by 36%. Together, UIA members have produced 73,000 additional graduates since 2014 – with more than half of those degrees going to students of color and students from low-income backgrounds.

In Spring 2021, the UIA announced its expansion beyond the 11 founding member universities. The University of Maryland, Baltimore County and North Carolina A&T State University are the UIA’s first new members since the Alliance began, and the network will continue to expand to include additional innovative universities committed to collaboration and student success.

As the UIA expands for the first time, its members are poised to identify and scale even more ideas and innovations that can help all students – especially those from low-income backgrounds and communities of color – complete high-quality college degrees.

Foundation Project Lead